A FAITH THAT FOUND A HOME:
My Testimony of Baptism into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God,
"For as lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." [St. Matthew 24:27]
The Lord is mighty, and worthy to be praised. Eyesus Kristos (Jesus Christ) is the Good Shepherd, and He guideth His sheep with mystical purpose, holy power, and divine protection. Throughout this world, many of the Father's sheep wander apart from the flock. They live in fear and confusion, because they are away from home and separated from the security of the Shepherd's guidance. They are lonely, because they lack the companionship and strength that comes from being united with the fold.
So, these scattered sheep exist without proper spiritual nourishment. They love their Shepherd, and in sincere faith they strive to follow Him to the best of their knowledge. They hear the Shepherd's voice, but it is muffled. They feel the Shepherd's presence, but only faintly. They know the Shepherd's love, yet they struggle to find a home where His love is felt in all of its fullness. They know the Shepherd' commands, but they are cut off from the spiritual power that enables them to endure in obedience. More than anything, they desire to worship the Shepherd, but their houses of worship just don't feel like home.
I was one of these scattered sheep, wandering in search of a home that would satisfy the deepest longings of my Christian faith. I studied the Bible, and I loved my Savior. But the version of Christianity produced by the Western world provided only a taste of what my soul longed to feast upon.
This is my testimony. It is the story of how one wandering sheep finally found his home. To God be the glory!
As a child, my father exposed me to a variety of Christian Churches and denominations. I am very grateful to him for this. The Catholic Church was the first to make an impression upon me. I felt a sense of awe when I entered the huge Cathedral. There was a solemn reverence and devotion that existed amongst the worshipers. The stations of the Cross adorned the walls. Statues and crucifixes caught my eye. But the Cathedral was a colorless environment, gray and dim. The statues and crucifixes seemed to convey despair rather than hope, and the sound of the Latin liturgy did not resonate within my soul. [Years later I would learn about the egregious actions that the Catholic Church committed against the Christian nation of Ethiopia, none more atrocious than Pope Pius XI giving his blessing to Mussolini's brutal invasion of that sacred land.]
I remember my parents occasionally taking me to the Unitarian Church, where I honestly cannot even remember hearing the name of God mentioned. As a child, this was very odd to me. I tried to understand the teachings of the Unitarian "sermons," but the concepts of God and biblical morality were apparently not the foundations of this particular denomination. The simple mind of a child is always searching for the concrete truths of God and morality. And, although my mind did not understand the amorphous concepts expressed in this Unitarian "church," my childhood soul immediately understood one thing very clearly: this Unitarian environment was spiritually dark and devoid of any real moral substance.
In the Methodist and Baptist Churches, I finally learned some of the famous Bible stories. The clear concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, were ideas that corresponded with what I knew deep inside to be true. I heard of Jesus and His death on the Cross. But I still did not really understand what it all meant. I was deeply saddened that Christ was crucified, and I knew that He was crucified for me. Yet I struggled to comprehend the depth and fullness of the Christian message.
At the age of 19, during my first year of college, I finally realized the essence of the Gospel message. Through a college ministry organized by an evangelical Presbyterian Church, I came to acknowledge my sins and fully trusted in the redemptive power of Christ and the Cross. After years of searching for answers in a variety of sinful pursuits, my soul was finally awakened. It was then that my spiritual journey really began.
I immediately developed an interest in the Holy Bible. For many years I had tried in earnest to read the Scriptures, but I couldn't understand what was written. The words were tedious to read, and my mind and spirit never became engaged. But now it was as if a light switch had been turned on. The words of the Bible finally made sense! It was as if every page was written directly to me and for me. I have loved the Holy Bible ever since. Glory be to God for His divine written revelation to humanity! As Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia said:
"Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumble before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realize that the solution to his present difficulties and guidance for his future action is the Bible. Unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great message, he cannot hope for salvation. For myself, I glory in the Bible."
[From Selected Speeches of Haile Selassie I]
Wandering in The West
With my newborn faith in Christ and my newfound love for the Bible, I began searching for a Church that would provide the fellowship, teachings, and Christian worship that my revived soul desperately craved. I am deeply grateful for the many righteous and God-fearing Christian people and Christian churches that all helped me along the way. I learned things of great value through each of them. I especially enjoyed my years of education in Bible College and my Philosophy studies later on. But my spirit still longed for something richer and deeper.
The Catholicism and Protestantism of Western civilization seemed full of contradiction and confusion. The more I studied theology, the more I became frustrated by how many competing doctrines existed amongst these Western churches and denominations. I also began to recognize how much damage this did to the Christian community. Instead of unity, there was a spirit of division that separated these Christian churches into isolated groups, each one claiming to have a superior theological understanding.
I also noticed that most churches in our Western society fall into one of two basic categories: Some churches emphasize spirituality while neglecting the temporal problems of man's social welfare, and other churches seem to focus solely on mankind's temporal needs while dismissing spiritual realities. But, as I read the Holy Bible, I noticed that Christ always preached spiritual truth while simultaneously meeting people's physical needs.
Here in America, there is also the unnatural divide between Church and state. There are true Christians who understand that without governance according to biblical morality, the state will inevitably come to chaos and ruin. And then there are the secularists, those who do not want any mention of God or biblical morality intruding upon their unrestrained desires and vain imaginations. The very fact that we even have this church/state divide and debate is indicative of the spiritual darkness that permeates the Western world.
After his seventh visit to Jamaica in 1972, Abuna Yesehaq - Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere - addressed these issues when he wrote:
"Mr. Manley (Michael Manley, who was the Prime Minister of Jamaica at that time) said governments in the Western Hemisphere had lost spiritual inspiration because of the separation of the church and state. He observed further that in the Caribbean the Church was focusing attention on the problems of the people, and this was of tremendous significance. The Church was not only concerned with the spiritual salvation of mankind, but also the temporal sufferings of the people, and this was a healthy development. He strongly believed that 'any government which denies itself spiritual advice impoverishes itself by this denial.' He was right. The real significance of the church and state relationship has been lost in many countries, especially those in the Western world. It should be remembered that the pillar which served as the basis for the evolvement of these governments is that of the separation of church and state. The consequence of this has been the great damage that is evident in the lives of many nations where the spirit of the people is neglected for purely carnal pursuits." [From The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church by Archbishop Yesehaq, pages 215-216]
God works in mystical ways, and He always leads His sheep according to His mighty providence. I have always loved reggae music, especially the spiritual music of Bob Marley and other positive reggae artists. The music of Bob Marley was based on biblical themes, which I loved. Through this music, I was introduced to the Rastafarian worldview. This lifestyle seemed to me to be a better expression of Christian principles than that which was practiced by the Western churches. Rastafarians promote peace, social justice, and true respect for all life. Rastafarians avoid politics and other divisive elements that are so prevalent in Western society. Rastafarians also value and uphold the Judaic roots that most Christian churches in the West seem to ignore. But the most significant aspect of Rastafarian philosophy is the importance of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari) and the sacred land of Ethiopia.
I have studied the lives and philosophies of great African leaders and revolutionaries such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Julius Nyrere of Tanzania, and Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Steve Biko of South Africa. But the more I learned about Empereror Haile Selassie I, the more I recognized his value and importance. To me, he was significantly unique among all these other influential African leaders. His uncompromising commitment to his country, his continent, and to his Orthodox Christian faith was exemplary. The more I read Haile Selassie’s words and studied his example, the more I came to appreciate and love this great Christian King.
Haile Selassie was able to defend the Christian Faith without denigrating or mocking other religions. He was able to staunchly articulate the rights of the African continent without crusading against the Western world. His Majesty was able to bring together the various African heads of state, and facilitated peaceful and productive progress by "emphasizing all areas of agreement."
The more I discovered about Haile Selassie, the more amazed I was. I came to deeply admire this great Emperor of Ethiopia. As a Christian, I rejoiced to learn about this Ethiopian King that ruled his Christian nation according to biblical principles and Christian law. I learned that the Emperor was a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. And as I read his words, I saw that he possessed a Solomonic wisdom that set him apart from all other world leaders.
I read the Kebra Nagast ["The glory of Kings"], and was fascinated to discover the full story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and how the Ark of the Covenant came to Ethiopia (where it remains to this day!). Everything I read and learned about Haile Selassie and Ethiopia seemed to provide the pieces to a puzzle that I had been trying to put together for many years. Why had I never known that the Ark of the Covenant and the true Cross of Christ are now in Ethiopia? And for all the theology I had studied, why didn't I know that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the oldest Christian Church in existence?
So, I thank God for the Rastafarian movement, because without it I would never have known much about Emperor Haile Selassie I and the Christian nation of Ethiopia. And I thank God for the Rastafarian worldview, because through this path I found a way of life that corresponded more closely to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour.
But, although I embraced the Rastafarian way, there was one belief to which I could never subscribe as a Christian. Many Rastafarians (but not all) believe that Haile Selassie is Christ Himself, returned to earth in His Second Coming. As a Christian, I did not agree with this. Although I understood why many Rastafarians held this belief, I knew that Haile Selassie himself was a devout follower of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I also knew that Haile Selassie was deeply disturbed by the fact that many people were worshiping him as God.
Therefore, as a Rastafarian and as a Christian, I began to study and emphasize the message and teachings of Emperor Haile Selassie I. And one of his emphatic and repetitive statements was: "I am a man, and man cannot worship man." It is my hope and my prayer that all Rastafarians will eventually come to understand the importance of these words, and that they will in time embrace the true and ancient Orthodox Christian Faith of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I.
A Glimpse of Zion
Through the teachings of Haile Selassie and my interest in his nation, I came to learn about the glorious and mystical Church of Ethiopia. My soul stirred whenever I saw pictures of the rock-hewn, cross-shaped Churches of Lalibela that were built with the assistance of holy angels. I loved seeing the pictures of Ethiopian Priests carrying magnificent, ornate Crosses. My spirit rejoiced within me, and I began trying to learn whatever I could about this ancient Christian Faith.
What I discovered was a depth and richness of Christian expression that I never imagined existed. I learned that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had numerous biblical Scriptures that were either unknown or unappreciated here in the West. As someone who loves the Holy Bible, I rejoiced to know that there were more of God's sacred Scriptures available for my edification and enlightenment. When I read the Book of Enoch, for example, I discovered the full story of the origins of angels and demons, something that had always intrigued me.
The more I unearthed about this ancient Christian Faith, the more my spirit was moved. As I read the teachings and studied the Orthodox doctrines and beliefs, I knew that the answers I had been searching for were being revealed to me. For years, the devil had tried to keep me from this knowledge and truth. But the Shepherd will always lead his sheep to the water!
I finally made a trip to Atlanta (where I was born and raised) to visit Debre Bisrat St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Upon entering the Church, I immediately felt God's holy presence. I did not understand the words of the Liturgy, because it was conducted in the ancient language of Ge'ez. But the sound of this language was sweet to my ears. And although I could not understand the words, it seemed that my mind, my heart, and my soul bathed in the beauty of this mystical sound. I now know why this was the case: This language, Ge'ez, was the very language that was spoken in the Garden of Eden! This was the very speech that Adam and Eve used to converse with the animals and with the Holy Trinity. No wonder that my soul enjoyed the sound of this holy utterance!
One of the first things that appealed to me about the Church was the fact that all of my senses were immediately engaged. There was the ethereal beauty of the liturgical language, the sound of drums and bells, the sweet aroma of Frankincense, the sight of huge colorful holy icons that adorned the Church from wall to wall, and the taste of holy water and holy bread that were shared by the faithful after Church. And, most impressive of all, was the procession of the Priests carrying the "Tabots" (the holy replicas of the tablets of the Ten Commandments) around the Church at the culmination of the Divine Liturgy.
I had never in my life experienced such reverence, holiness, and devotion. And although there was much that I did not understand, it seemed as though I was gazing through a window into the very glory of Zion. I knew immediately that God was leading me home.
The Devil Defeated
I now realize that the source of denominational church division in the West resulted from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., which divided the nature of Our Lord into two. As soon as I learned the meaning of the Ethiopic word "Tewahedo" ("Unity," "Oneness"), I recognized its significance. Satan knew that if he could deceive men into separating and dividing the nature of Our Lord, then the Christian Church would subsequently be separated, divided, and fractured into a thousand pieces.
So, praise be to God for those faithful Church Fathers that refused to consent with the erroneous Council of Chalcedon. God always preserves a faithful remnant. And because of the righteous conviction and uncompromising faith of these ancient Christians, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been divinely preserved as the purest manifestation of the Christian faith.
Most of the Western world is still unaware of these beautiful spiritual realities. But glory to God for Emperor Haile Selassie I, who desired that all people should know the true light of the Gospel. And without coercion, manipulation, or force, Haile Selassie ensured that the ancient Orthodox Faith was brought to those of us in the West who thirsted for its richness and depth.
In His Second Coming, Christ will appear from the East. [St. Matthew 24:27] And in a mystical foreshadowing of this event, representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church came from the East to the West in order to establish the ancient Christian religion in this land. Long ago there were Wise Men that came from the East to worship the incarnate God in His infancy. Almost two thousand years later, wise men came from the East to establish the truest and oldest expression of Christianity here in this spiritually dry part of the world.
I am thankful for the Ethiopian World Federation, which provided for the establishment of the true Church here in the West. What Satan intends for evil, God uses for good. [Genesis 50:20] And although the Italian fascist Benito Mussolini endeavored to destroy the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian faith, he unintentionally helped to spread the light of the true Christian Church to other parts of the world. It was during the Italian occupation that the Ethiopian World Federation was established. This organization provided for the establishment of the Church here in America so that Ethiopians in the U.S. could worship according to their own customs and culture. So, I give thanks to God for the righteous vision and the faithful efforts that made the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Faith available to those of us here in the West.
But I am especially grateful to Archbishop Yesehaq (Abba L. M. Mandefro), who devoted his life to establishing the Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Western Hemisphere. I am so thankful that he came to us, and I am especially thankful for his missionary efforts to Rastafarians. Without condescension or judgment, Archbishop Yesehaq took the time to understand the source, development, and the frustrations of the Rastafarian movement. A strong but gentle shepherd, Archbishop Yesehaq proclaimed the message of the Gospel and the teachings of the Orthodox Church with faithfulness and patience. And his labors were fruitfully rewarded. Today there are countless numbers of Rastafarians who have abandoned the worship of Haile Selassie and embraced the ancient and authentic Orthodox Christian Faith. Among them was the legendary Bob Marley, whose music and message God would use to eventually bring me home to the Church myself.
The Perseverance of a People
In learning about Ethiopia, I have seen how this sacred country has persevered through the most difficult of adversities and hardships. But in spite of the evil assaults of colonialism, fascism, Islamic invasions, and communism, God has preserved the land and its people. Mussolini instructed the fascist troops to "Kill everyone carrying the Cross." [The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church: An Integrally African Church by Archbishop Yesehaq (p. 161)]
The Italians therefore sought out the Ethiopian Priests, and subjected them to the cruelest forms of torture and death. But evil acts such as these have not deterred the Ethiopian people from their devotion to the Cross of Christ.
Ethiopia as a nation has taken up her Cross, with all of its suffering and affliction, and followed Christ through the centuries with endurance, faith, and honor. As Our Lord said in the Gospel, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." [St. Luke 9:23]
Ethiopia has never abandoned her Christian faith. In spite of the various and numerous Satanic assaults levied against her, Ethiopia has continued to "stretch forth her hand unto God." [Psalm 68:31]
A Calling from God
For the past two years, I have felt the deep desire to be baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I feel like the Ethiopian eunuch who desired to be baptized by St. Philip the apostle. [Acts 8:26-39] This Ethiopian man desired to know the fullness and truth of the God he worshiped according to Judaic tradition. St. Philip found him reading from the book of Isaiah, and the apostle asked him if he understood what he read. The Ethiopian responded, "How can I, except that some man should guide me?" [Acts 8:31] So, St. Philip proceeded to explain the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy through Eyesus Kristos the Lord. And the Ethiopian's immediate response to the Gospel message was: "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" [Acts 8:36]
I have been studying the Bible for 20 years, yet I have lacked the fullness of its comprehension. Now I realize this is because I did not have the Orthodox Church to guide me in understanding its proper meaning. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, I have loved God and loved His scriptures. And similarly, I now have been exposed to the light of greater knowledge and instruction. Therefore, I have asked the same question: "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" And believing with all my heart that Eyesus Kristos (Jesus Christ) is the Son of God, I have graciously been told that I may indeed be baptized. Glory to God in the highest!
The devil always tries to make us doubt our motives and intentions. But God alone is the Judge of man's heart. [Hebrews 4:12-13] Whenever we desire that which is good for our souls and glorifying to God, then Satan will try to deter us from it. The devil is the accuser of the brethren [Revelation 12:10], and he always challenges our divine calling. But when God gives a calling, then He will fulfill that call in His servant's life. His calling is irrevocable [Romans 11:39], and His will cannot be thwarted. I have felt the call to be baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and in faith I trust that this calling is authentic and divine.
Recently I experienced a vivid dream that I will never forget. In this dream, I suddenly found myself in Ethiopia. All around me there was bloodshed and death. Ethiopians were being murdered left and right by some brutal and sadistic force. I could not determine who or what this evil force was, but I knew that it was demonic. Bombs, canons, and machine gun bullets were killing the Ethiopian people who themselves had no weapons of defense.
The Ethiopian Christians were being violently murdered as they peacefully followed their Orthodox priests who were carrying crosses. As these Priests were shot, they dropped their beautiful crosses as they fell to the ground. I wept with grief. What had these righteous people done to deserve this cruel and horrible fate?
But I noticed a very curious thing. In spite of all the violence and death being inflicted upon the Ethiopian people, there was no spirit of fear amongst them. No one ran away in panic and terror. They all marched forward with calm determination, following their priests with their eyes upon the Cross. There was extreme sorrow, but there was no fear. And I was amongst it all, feeling the deepest sadness at what I was witnessing. But it was very strange that nobody was afraid.
Suddenly, a priest right in front of me was killed. He dropped his cross as his body fell to the earth. I wanted to reach down and pick up this cross, but because only priests are allowed to carry a cross, I did not know what I should do. Then I gazed across the bloody field, and I looked into the eyes of a fallen priest who was struggling with his last breaths. He gazed at me and nodded, indicating that I should indeed pick up the cross and carry it forward. So I did. I reached down and picked up the beautiful cross that lay before me on the ground. And as soon as I picked it up, my dream abruptly ended.
I will never forget this dream, and I am sure that over time I will come to better understand its meaning. But I interpreted this dream as my call from God to be baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. And I know that I desperately need the strength and blessings of baptism to empower me in my spiritual journey. I need the blessings of baptism to help me endure the afflictions that accompany all those who truly endeavor to follow after Christ.
It would be understandable if this ancient Ethiopian faith and culture closed itself off from any connection to corrupt Western society. It would be natural if the Ethiopian people desired to hide the mysteries of their culture and keep their ancient Christian religion to themselves. But because of the authenticity of their Christian faith, they have a deep desire to share the true light of Christ and the true meaning of the Cross with the rest of the world.
When I first visited St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Atlanta, I was welcomed with warmth and kindness. It did not matter that I was "white." It did not matter that I was unfamiliar with the language or the Liturgy. I felt at peace. I felt at home.
I am deeply grateful to the Priest, Tsebate YemaneBrhan, who graciously took the time to meet with me and consider my interest in the Faith. With the many responsibilities and duties he has to his large Ethiopian parish, it would have been understandable if he didn't have time to deal with someone from Mississippi (where our family now lives). But in true Christian spirit, he has taken the time over the past two years to answer my many questions and encourage my interest in the Church. And now I am blessed to soon be baptized by Tsebate, and to have him as my Godfather. I want to sincerely express my gratitude and respect to him. Tsebate has truly been sent by God!
I am so thankful that this sacred Christian Faith has been opened up to me. My appreciation cannot be adequately expressed with words. It is difficult to express the love I feel for a country that I have never even visited, and for the Ethiopian people who have given such spiritual light and hope to the world. Ethiopia was located in the land of Eden, as we know from the Holy Bible [Genesis 2:10-13]. So the spiritual connection I feel with this land, its people, and its faith must be because Ethiopia represents the pure and uncorrupted communion that mankind in his pre-fallen state once enjoyed with God. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents. And since they were the first Africans, then the African heritage belongs to all human beings, regardless of race, color, or creed.
As my family and I prepare for our baptism, I feel as if I am coming home from a long, long journey. And yet I know that my journey is really just beginning. My Christian faith has struggled through many ups and downs, and through many trials and tribulations. I have often stumbled and frequently fallen, but Christ my Shepherd has always picked me up and carried me in His arms when I needed Him the most. And now He is bringing me into the true fold of ancient and authentic Christian fellowship.
Through baptism, I will be renewed and cleansed by the very water that poured from Our Lord's side. Thereafter, I will have the blessing of receiving the very body and very blood of Eyesus Kristos into my mouth and into my body and soul. I will have communion with the Saints and Christian martyrs. I will have the protection of the holy Angels. I will have the blessings of the Holy Virgin Mariyam, to whom I can pray for intercession and strength. There will be fasts that will help me to crucify the flesh, and feasts that help us experience the joy of Christ's victory in our lives. I will have my blessed Priest and Godfather, Tsebate YemaneBrhan, to whom I can confess my sins and receive guidance and instruction in the Faith. I will have the sacred Scriptures in all of their fullness. And I will have the Synaxarium (Lives of the Saints), which will give me daily inspiration and encouragement from the exemplary lives of the Saints and Christian martyrs.
I know that after my baptism the struggles in life will continue. But now I will have the spiritual power and guidance to help me endure with greater vitality than ever before. I will be strengthened and encouraged by the five Mysteries, the seven Sacraments, the lives of the Saints, the protection of the Angels, the blessings of the Holy Virgin, the fellowship and communion of the faithful, the Prayers and Anaphoras, the blessings of Holy Icons - and most importantly - the Divine Liturgy, which is the apex of authentic Christian worship.
I am approaching my 40th birthday, having been a professing Christian for 20 years. But I feel like a baby. There is so much that I need to learn, and I look forward to the growth process. I am humbled by the faithfulness and commitment of devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. My flesh is weak, and the devil tells me that I will not be able to adequately practice this Orthodox Christian Faith. But God reminds me that prayer, fasting, and worship are not burdens. These things are blessings for the soul and liberation for the mind and the spirit. God also reminds me that faith is not a competition. We are all at different stages of development and growth. And the Orthodox Faith provides us with the things we need for our proper spiritual nourishment.
People eat different amounts of food according to their nutritional needs and desires. A child may become full from a small portion, while an adult requires a much larger amount. But both are fed and receive what they need for their particular growth and development. It should not be the goal of the child to grow up and eat as much as his parents. Instead, the child must eat according to his needs at the various stages of his growth. And over time, he will realize that he is able to eat more and more. And the more nourishment he receives, the stronger his body will grow.
So, this is the grace of Orthodox Christianity. The prayers, fasts, and other observances are for our spiritual nourishment. They are available to us for our own strength and development in the Faith. These things do not exist for our condemnation. Rather, they exist for our edification and encouragement.
I come into the Church as a spiritual infant, eager to grow and develop. Growth is a slow and difficult process, sometimes even painful. But each stage of development will bring new blessings and new spiritual rewards. And although I am entering as a spiritual babe, I know that the Church is my Mother, and I will be nurtured well by her.
So, I am grateful to be entering into this ancient Apostolic Faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It is with humility that I come to my home, seeking to be edified and enlightened in the true Christian religion. I praise my Lord and my Saviour, Eyesus Kristos, who has graciously brought me to where I now belong. I know that the Church will be a blessing to my marriage and to my children. I have peace in knowing that my children will now be raised up in the authentic Christian Faith. I know that the Church will empower me to be more effective in my various ministries. I know that I will also receive divine anointing upon my creative endeavors. And, I am confident that I will receive God's guidance to proclaim the true Gospel of Christ to my Rastafarian brethren that erroneously worship Haile Selassie as God.
I rejoice that the Lord has brought me to the true Faith. I will never look down upon my Catholic or Protestant Christian brothers. I have many dear friends - both Catholic and Protestant - that truly love Our Lord. But I realize that I will not be able to contain my joy at having been brought to the Orthodox Church. As I learn and grow in the Faith, I am certain that I will desire to spread this knowledge to others. But in my zeal, I will remember the wisdom of Archbishop Yesehaq, who wrote:
"A Christian Church, being the Kingdom of God, should not and cannot limit itself to one nation. It must go out and preach the Gospel throughout the world, regardless of race, color, or distance, following the commandment of Our Lord: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the ages.' The Church of Ethiopia has been a spiritual power and an ancient lighthouse for freedom and civilization throughout Africa, before and after Christ. She will not force anyone to break contract with what he or she is attached to, and she is continuously praying for the entire world that God should hasten His purpose and put in the mind of all the desire for that which is good and expedient. If any different culture or form of worship is introduced to a country, it should be considered as a contribution. It should not conflict with the country to which the individual national group legally belongs."
[The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church by Archbishop Yesehaq, pages 175-176]
What I have written is a very brief and incomplete account of the spiritual journey that has led me home to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. There is much more that I could say, but I hope that God will take these few words and use them to His glory and for His purpose. Sometimes words cannot adequately express the emotions of the heart and the sentiments of the soul. But I feel the same joy expressed by the many Rastafarians who came to the Church through the missionary efforts of Abuna Yesehaq. There is an old Rastafarian chant that perhaps best expresses my feelings. It goes like this:
Michael going to bring them, bring them
To the Orthodox Church
No matter what they say, no matter what they do
Michael going to bring them to the Orthodox Church
Gabriel going to bring them, bring them
To the Orthodox Church
No matter what they do, no matter what they say
Gabriel going to bring them to the Orthodox Church
Sorial going to bring them, bring them
To the Orthodox Church
No matter what they do, no matter what they say
Sorial going to bring them to the Orthodox Church
Raphael going to bring them, bring them
To the Orthodox Church
No matter what they do, no matter what they say
Raphael going to bring them to the Orthodox Church
Thank God, thank God! The Orthodox Church is here!
Thank God, thank God! The Orthodox Church is here!
It is a Church for each and every one
Who accepts this wonderful Faith
Thank God, Glory Alleluyah!
The Orthodox Church is here!
The Cleansing Water
On June 15th, 2008, my family and I were baptized into the true and ancient Orthodox Christian Faith at St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In God's mystical providence, we were baptized on the Day of Pentecost, the Church's celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. The water that poured from Our Lord's side at His crucifixion was poured over the members of our family three times each. We renounced Satan and all of his evil works, and we received the Holy Spirit through Chrismation, whereby our Priest anointed our heads, our hands, and our faces with Holy Myron (oil) in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God.
I was asked to read aloud the following passage from the New Testament:
"For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
After which I read:
"The blessing of the Father and the love of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit who came down upon the apostles in the upper room of holy Zion in like sort come down and be multiplied upon me and all of you. Amen"
The Priest read this passage from the Gospel of St. John 3:1-9
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
We then read the Creed of Nicea (325 A.D.)and Constantinople (381 A.D.) aloud as a family:
"We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (aeons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen"
With the exception of these words which were read in English, the rest of the baptismal rite was conducted in the holy liturgical language of Ge'ez. Prayers of the exorcism of demons were said, along with other prayers chanted by the Priests and Deacons as they walked around our family and enveloped us in a circle of sacred Frankincense smoke. After our baptism, we received the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the very body and blood of Eyesus Kristos.
We also received our new Christian names. And, since we were baptized on the Day of Pentecost, Tsebate our Priest gave each of us names that relate to the Holy Spirit. My new Christian name is now "Gebre Menfes Kidus" (Servant of the Holy Spirit); my wife's new name is "Amete Menfes Kidus" (Servant [feminine] of the Holy Spirit); our sons' names are now "Wolde Menfes Kidus" (Son of the Holy Spirit) and "Haile Menfes Kidus" (Power of the Holy Spirit); and our daughter's new Christian name is "Wolete Menfes Kidus" (Daughter of the Holy Spirit). It is our prayer and desire that we will live up to our names, and that as a family and as individuals we will serve, live, rely upon, and manifest the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. I ask for your prayers on our behalf.
After our Baptism, Chrismation and the receiving of the Holy Eucharist, Tsebate introduced us to the Church and asked me to share my testimony. I was honored to address the community of the faithful, and I am sure that my words failed to express the joy and gratitude that filled my heart. Our family was received into St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church with warmth and graciousness, and we pray that God will use us to contribute to the strength and growth of our beautiful new Church community.
There is strength and blessing in the Church. Apart from this mystical body of Christ - this holy institution - a Christian will never fully grow in grace and truth. He will never have the Christian authority, guidance, and accountability that all believers need. The Church not only exists for us, but we exist for the Church. We are to contribute our resources, our gifts, our abilities, our fellowship, our encouragement, and our time to the Church that nurtures and nourishes us in the true apostolic Faith.
I will never forget my baptism. I will remember the grace and power that God granted me through the redeeming water and the holy myron. Now I prayerfully seek to be more closely linked with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Baptism is a beautiful beginning, but now there is much Christian work to be done. My family and I are deeply grateful to our Priest and Godfather, Tsebate YemaneBrhan. And we are deeply grateful to the wonderful and generous community of Debre Bisrat St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. We are honored and privileged to now call this Church our home. We pray that God will make us faithful and obedient servants of Christ and His Church.
It is my prayer and my hope that others will be drawn to the divine light of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. If you are a Christian that has become discouraged or disillusioned by the erroneous expressions of Western Christendom, then know that the Orthodox Faith offers you its open embrace. If you are a spiritual seeker that has avoided the stagnant representations of most organized religion, then the Ethiopian Orthodox Church invites you to come discover the mystical depth of true Christian belief within our community.
Satan may prevail over the individual, the state, the society, and even the family; but the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. [St. Matthew 16:18] So whatever thirst that man may have, only the water of Christ can quench it. And it is through the true Church of Christ that ones may come and partake of the redeeming and life-giving waters. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church simply offers:
"Let him who thirsts come. Whosoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." [Revelation 22:17]
"Grace be with all them that love Our Lord Eyesus Kristos in sincerity. Amen." [Ephesians 6:24]
Besime Ab, weWolde, weMenfesQidus, Ahadu Amlak.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God
GEBRE MENFES KIDUS